3 comments April 23rd, 2008at 08:30pm Posted by Eli
In case you were wondering why the GOP isn’t making a big deal about Obama’s connection to Tony Rezko…
With federal investigators closing in, Illinois political insiders hoped to avoid prison by having Bush administration architect Karl Rove oust U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, according to accusations made in federal court today.
An attorney for Rove and the Republican insider accused of leaning on him, Bob Kjellander, flatly denied the accusations this afternoon.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago dropped the bombshell allegations as part of the federal corruption trial against Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a former Gov. Rod Blagojevich fundraiser and confidant.
Federal prosecutors say two witnesses could testify that they were told by two separate people close to Kjellander that he was working to get Fitzgerald removed by leaning on Rove, his old friend.
The power play was allegedly plotted before Fitzgerald received a questionably low ranking by the Bush Administration and the controversial ousting of eight U.S. Attorneys.
The first hints of the far-reaching accusations came out in court late Tuesday when Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton read the grand jury statements of Steven Loren, a co-schemer in the Rezko case.
Veteran insider Bill Cellini “said it was Bob Kjellander’s job to take care of the U.S. Attorney,” Hamilton read from the transcript, which recounted a 2004 meeting between Cellini and Loren over how to handle the deepening federal probe.
…Hamilton… said Rezko business partner Ali Ata is expected to testify Rezko told him the same thing in 2004.
“Mr. Kjellander is working with Mr. Rove to have Mr. Fitzgerald removed so someone else can come in (and end the corruption investigation),” Hamilton said in summarizing Ata’s expected testimony about Rezko’s statements.
Kjellander, an Illinois lobbyist, is a national Republican party player who recently served as treasurer to the Republican National Committee. He has been friends with Rove since the early 1970s when the two got their start in politics while still in college.
Kjellander helped orchestrate George Bush’s Midwest campaigns.
In late 2004, Fitzgerald was also the special prosecutor probing the Valerie Plame leak in which White House officials were accused of illegally disclosing her CIA identity in retribution for her husband’s opposition to the Iraq war.
Rove was questioned in that case. The investigation ultimately ended in the conviction of Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby for perjury.
In 2005, the Bush administration ranked Fitzgerald as one of several U.S. attorneys who did “not distinguish themselves” – at the same time he was pursuing landmark cases covering Plame, the Chicago Outfit and former Republican Gov. George Ryan as well as the administrations of Blagojevich, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Cook County President John Stroger.
The rankings later evolved into the notable ousting of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006, a move that was widely criticized as being politically motivated. Two of those attorneys fired were given the same ranking as Fitzgerald.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenoff said the governor was unaware of any moves to oust Fitzgerald.
This is rich. Rove and the Republicans actually tried to sabotage the case that would have otherwise been the centerpiece of their campaign against Obama. Of course, they didn’t know that at the time – they were just reflexively gaming the system to defend Republican criminals, like they always do. But now they can’t draw too much attention to Rezko, lest they draw attention to Rove’s involvement, and to the US Attorney firings. Even so, Obama should have a good strategy to bring the pain if the Republicans do come after him on Rezko.
But he’d better be careful – being tied to Rove is the worst thing that could happen to him.
(For the record, I think the Obama-Rezko connection is tenuous, and it’s a manufactured scandal – but that doesn’t mean the Republicans wouldn’t have made a big deal about it. Quite the contrary.)